Like every organization, the COVID pandemic forced the Wichita Falls Chamber to adjust its economic development strategy. Unlike our competition, we virtually altered our approach, or to rephrase it in a better way, we have altered our approach…VIRTUALLY!
Wichita Falls began with an aggressive approach
Early this year, the Chamber undertook an aggressive outreach program with site consultants, industry thought leaders and industrial brokerage firms. We executed a visit program in Dallas and joined Team Texas on a Chicago Mission Trip. Our program was also an active participant at the Site Selectors Guild’s Annual Meeting in Atlanta this past March. While attending the program, we pushed the Wichita Falls brand to over 30 leading site consultants.
By mid-March, The Chamber was planning an aggressive call trip to Atlanta, Greenville (SC) and the West Coast…until the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down. All trips were cancelled, all plans ceased.
Understand, as economic developers, it is our job to get in front of prospects. No one expects a site consultant or industry to say, “wow, those communities can’t come and visit me now, I better reach out to them.”
Thus, the Wichita Falls Chamber executed a “pivot” to its outreach strategy to ensure our brand remained relevant and recognized. How did we succeed at this? By going virtual.
Going Virtual – Strategies shifted to online platforms
First, since we could not have actual meetings, we were one of the first to begin host “virtual” meetings with site consultant leaders like Global Locations Strategies, Site Selection Group, Newmark Knight Frank, Deloitte, Colliers, Szatan & Associates, WDG Consulting, Maxis Advisors, Atlas Insight, Garner Economics, McGuire Woods and many more.
This innovative approach provided us the opportunity to establish the Wichita Falls brand in a manner never seen before. Tools, like Zoom, allowed to host a larger group than personal visits permit. In addition, Wichita Falls strengthened its positioning by partnering with Governor Abbott’s Office of Economic Development and Tourism along with Team Texas to demonstrate a collaborative approach to economic development.
Virtual Tools – Innovation began with virtual spec buildings
In 2019, a team consisting of the Chamber’s Marketing Director Katie Britt, BYSP Architect Dick Bundy, and Anthony Inman of Inman Construction began working on a state-of-the-art virtual “spec” building. It’s completion mid-2020 has elevated our outreach effort and offered a more robust tool for prospects.
Actual spec buildings, while beneficial, pose potential risks and obstacles. A prospect might like the building but find it unusable because the sidewalls are not high enough, column spacing is too narrow, additional floor drains are needed, there are not enough truck docks or they are in the wrong location…along with a whole host of other problems.
The virtual spec building rectifies all these problems because plans have already been developed, but if changes are needed, that can easily and inexpensively be adjusted on the plans BEFORE the actual building goes up.
A Basis of Design Report details floor thickness, column spacing, ceiling heights, structural components, and much more. Our virtual building also provides an estimate of construction timelines, estimated costs for construction and permitting along with site layout.
More virtual tours of buildings
One would believe that our program could stop here because we have established the fact that Wichita Falls is ahead of the curve and is addressing business outreach issues due to the COVID pandemic. However, as the famous television commercial says, “But wait, there’s more….”
The Chamber decided to take the virtual concept to the next level and contracted with Wichita Falls-based NVR360, a cutting-edge virtual tour technology company that provides immersive tours for the residential, office, commercial, and industrial sector.
Our first product was a simulated tour of 2915 East Central Freeway, the former Beacon Insurance Building. This 36,000 SF plug & play call center/data center offers easy access to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, ample parking plenty of space for growth.
Our virtual tour allows viewers to enter the front door of the building, tour both floors of the facility and even measure each room. The 3D virtual tour allows you to view the facility in a “dollhouse” configuration, see floor plans, select which floor you want to see, and even allows you to measure any space you like.
The Beacon Building is the first of many spaces that we will provide virtual 3D tours of and all will be available on our site and building website.
The pandemic of 2020 forced economic development to adjust its overall strategy for business recruitment. The choice was simple, either sit and try to wait out the situation or create a new approach to differentiate Wichita Falls from its competition.
We chose to be aggressive and are confident it will bring dividends for both the short and long term.
Wichita Falls continues to appear at the top of lists of best places in America. Websites like Smart Asset, Niche, Forbes, and Business Insider are showing Wichita Falls favorably. Read the following 4 rankings and what each had to say about us.
“Wichita Falls, Texas, ranks in the top eighth of cities in the study for five metrics: high school graduation rate, median annual housing costs, percentage of the labor force working 50 weeks or more per year, average commute time and average annual child care costs.
Part of Wichita County, it has the highest high school graduation rate (97%) of any city in our top 10 and the sixth-highest rate for this metric overall.”
SmartAsset created this list of the best cities for working parents by looking at the 600 largest cities in the U.S. Of those cities, 581 had complete data across the following eight metrics:
Ranks #12 – Frugal & Friendly – MSN Lifestyle
“The nightlife is surprisingly vibrant in this small city of 100,000. You’ll also find warm Texas weather and a low cost of living in Wichita Falls.
The median income is $45,500, and the town is a two-hour drive from Dallas. If you may be doing a lot of driving to the Big D, you’ll want to shop around for affordable car insurance.
A major attraction in downtown Wichita Falls is the more than 100-year-old Newby-McMahon Building, a slender four-story building known as the “world’s littlest skyscraper.” The city is relatively safe, and there are two local hospitals and 10 health care centers.”
MSN sized up cities across the nation to find warm, welcoming locations that are inexpensive and have plenty of amenities for retirees.
Ranks #1 – Cost of Living – Niche.com
“Wichita Falls is a city in Texas with a population of 104,494. Wichita Falls is in Wichita County and is one of the best places to live in Texas. Living in Wichita Falls offers residents a sparse suburban feel and most residents own their homes. In Wichita Falls there are a lot of parks. Many families and young professionals live in Wichita Falls and residents tend to lean conservative. The public schools in Wichita Falls are above average.”
Niche rankings are based on rigorous analysis of key statistics from the U.S. Department of Education and millions of reviews.
Ranks #12 – Best place to live in the South after Pandemic – Business Insider
“Wichita Falls’ population density is 57.7 people per square mile, the sixth-smallest population density among metro areas in the South. This metro area’s cost of living is 12.4% less than the national average.”
Business Insider recently came up with their list of the best US cities to live in after the pandemic. To do this, they used a variety of metrics from government and academic datasets. This includes looking at the share of jobs that can potentially be done remotely, the pre-coronavirus unemployment rate, and housing costs.
Let’s hope for more positive rankings as we continue to strive for a better Wichita Falls through community and economic development.
Wichita Falls Community Strategy
There are 7 catalysts in our community strategy which lead us to something extraordinary.
The catalysts are Modern Schools, Sheppard Air Force Base Integration, Talent Partnership, Wichita Falls Maker Hub, Bike Friendly Community, Downtown LIVE- WORK-PLAY, and Economic development best practices. As our volunteer action teams work to push us towards the level of success we want to see in each catalyst, we will begin to notice more positive outcomes in all areas attractive to people looking for a community like ours to move to, start a business, or get to work.
A new retailer is set to open its doors in Wichita Falls in August.
Conn’s HomePlus, a specialty retailer of furniture, mattresses, home appliances, and consumer electronics, announced Tuesday that they will be open to the public Friday, August 14, in their 40,000-square foot showroom.
The Texas-based retailer has 143 stores in 14 states and the Wichita Falls’ location will the 72nd operating unit in the state.
Conn’s has stores in Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
Conn’s representatives say said they are excited to be part of several new stores, commercial development and other economic activities in Wichita Falls.
“We are committed to playing a key role in the continued economic growth of our great home state,” said Norm Miller, Conn’s HomePlus Chairman and CEO. “The Wichita Falls location allows us to serve a new community and we look forward to connecting with the people who call this city home.”
Conn’s started out more than 128 years ago as a small plumbing and heating company in Beaumont, Texas. Today, Conn’s is one of the top consumer goods retailers in the country, with more than $1 billion in revenue and more than 4,500 employees across the southern United States. Our mission is to make it possible for everyone to purchase quality, long-lasting products for their home.
WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — Wichitans are finally seeing the old Stanley Tools building put to good use after Pamlico Air opened their doors in Wichita Falls a few months ago.
On Tuesday, city and county officials and others were able to get a tour of the new 180,000 square foot facility.
Pamlico Air CEO Travis Stephenson said this plant will be one of two anchors for the company, even as they expand with more facilities.
“This is where the most volume will be, where the most equipment, the most people,” Pamlico Air CFO Scott Lampe said.
After sitting vacant more than a decade, the old Stanley Tools building is now home to over 100 new jobs in Wichita Falls.
“Sitting up there and you think nobody is every going to want it, for them to come in and purchase it, redo it, drop millions of dollars in it, then automatically start producing product and hire 100 employees, 100 citizens is pretty neat,” Wichita Falls Mayor Stephen Santellana said.
The new company that manufactures air filters and air filtration products and equipment are ready to be in the falls for the long run and the city economy will benefit from new businesses like Pamlico Air.
“We’ve made a pretty big bed with our investment here with the city,” Stephenson said. “For this to be one of our anchor spots that we may even reach a little bit farther than we normally would.”
“This is not just oil and gas manufacturing or aerospace manufacturing, which those two were our bread and butter for 50 years, air filters it’s a different industry, industrial hemp it’s a different industry, and so as one struggles, another one comes up,” Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Henry Florsheim said.
The first few months in town could not have been better, with Stephenson saying all the help from the city and county sped up the process by six months.
Plant manager Michael Parsons moved to Wichita Falls in January in preparation for the opening and couldn’t be more thankful for the response so far.
“We really lucked out in hiring because we’ve got our floor crew and they went from not being able to build anything to being able to build like champions,” Parsons said. “So, I’m really proud of them, I’m proud of the community for standing behind us and getting it started.”
Pamlico Air plans to add more machines soon that would result in double the jobs for the city.
And none of this could have been possible without the group of local investors who owned the old Stanley Tools building donating the facility to the city’s 4-A board.
Wichita Falls is a finalist for a groundbreaking industrial hemp processing facility from Dallas-based Panda Biotech, LLC.
“Wichita Falls is one of several potential locations under consideration by Panda Biotech as the home of the Panda Texas Plains Hemp Gin. This state-of-the-art facility will feature two 10-ton/hour decorticating lines that will process industrial hemp for fiber and hurd. Once operational, the facility will be the largest of its kind in the world. The incredible support from the City, County, Chamber of Commerce, and the Wichita Falls Economic Development Corporation has positioned Wichita Falls as a leading candidate. The company looks forward to finalizing its decision soon,” stated Scott Evans, Executive Vice President, Panda Biotech.
Last week the Wichita Falls Economic Development Corporation (WFEDC) preliminarily approved an incentive package worth up to $2.8 million to attract the project. On Tuesday, July 7th, the Wichita Falls City Council will vote on the proposal, initially presented to the WFEDC by the Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce.
“The company is considering a very short list of locations for this project. Approval of incentives does not guarantee that we land this project, but it does increase our chances. This cutting-edge facility would put Wichita Falls on the map,” stated Chamber President & CEO Henry Florsheim. “The Panda Texas Plains Hemp Gin will have an enormous potential to attract members and suppliers who will be needed to support a facility of this size. This project would not only diversify our industrial base, but could also add tremendous value to our region’s agricultural economy.”
For questions about this project, please contact Wichita Falls Chamber CEO Henry Florsheim at 940.723.2741 or email@example.com.
Panda Biotech, LLC is a first-mover in the emerging U.S. industrial hemp fiber, hurd and cellulose industry. The company is currently developing large-scale, industrial hemp gin facilities.
Panda Biotech’s executive leadership has extensive experience developing, financing, constructing and operating large-scale industrial facilities including natural gas, solar, hydroelectric and biomass energy projects. They have developed 22 projects since 1982 representing approximately $12 billion in invested capital.
The company has contracted with a leading, international equipment manufacturer for the construction of the largest hemp decorticator in the United States and believed to be the largest in the world. The 10-ton/hour decorticator is the first of two planned for Panda Biotech’s flagship industrial hemp processing facility to be located in Texas. At full production, the two decorticating lines for processing textile-quality, high-grade fiber, premium hurd and cellulose are expected to generate $30,000,000 per year for Texas agricultural producers.
Once the project is built, Panda Biotech will engage key stakeholders in agriculture and academic institutions to expand the use of industrial hemp across industries.
Benefits of industrial hemp fiber and cellulose
Industrial hemp used for manufacturing applications is highly valued for its natural durability, rapid growth and environmental sustainability. The processed fiber and cellulose from industrial hemp can be used in the production of a multitude of products including textiles, a wide array of building materials, paper products, automobile composites, nanomaterials, bio-plastics and finishing products such as caulking, sealants, varnishes and paints. In addition, research indicates that hemp-based supercapacitors offer a less expensive alternative to materials currently used in rechargeable batteries for applications such as smartphones and electric cars. As a result, industrial hemp is poised to transform numerous multi-billion-dollar industries.
In May 2020, Panda Biotech donated 60 tons of free hemp fiber seed to help jumpstart Texas’ industrial hemp fiber industry. Texas A&M AgriLife was commissioned to conduct a research study on the data collected from growers across the state of Texas who participated in the seed promotion. They will also prepare a formal report that will be shared with the study participants.
The Wichita Falls Chamber unveiled its mural on June 22nd in the lobby of its new location in the Hamilton Building on the corner of 8th & Lamar. Artist Aaron Campbell showcased her vision after months of hard work to the excitement of all in attendance.
“I am so proud to finally reveal my first solo mural to the city. It’s been such a great opportunity to grow and learn from. I’m grateful to the Wichita Falls Chamber for agreeing to work with me and giving me this project. They have been so supportive of me and I am excited to be a part of their expansion. I could not have done it without the partnership of the Wichita Falls Alliance for Arts and Culture as well. They are such a boon to the young artists of Wichita Falls. I hope that everyone who sees this mural will see the benefit the arts bring to our community and how important it is to the artists that are given the support they need to thrive. Please continue to support local businesses and stop by the Chamber to see my work.”
Aaron Campbell, Artist/Muralist
Hidden gems inside the mural make it a treat to peruse.
The mural features the iconic falls and contains tiny gems you’ll have to look closely to find. The Chamber is proud to add this mural for the community to enjoy.
“We knew that we wanted the entrance to the new Chamber to be special, something that would make locals proud and visitors say “wow”. That’s what we’ve accomplished with this new facility and the mural. It’s truly an amazing work of art, and the fact that a local artist painted it makes it all the more special.”
Henry Florsheim, Wichita Falls Chamber CEO
The Wichita Falls Chamber encourages others to support the local arts. If you’re looking to add a mural, please contact Audra Lambert at the Wichita Falls Alliance for Arts and Culture at 940-386-4729.
“Artists have a way of capturing our imaginations in a way that allows us to create our own stories. Aaron Campbell’s masterful work is full of stories and I’m proud to see this new addition join the roster of brilliant murals in our community.”
Margie Reese, Wichita Falls Alliance for Arts and Culture Executive Director
The Chamber will participate in future After Hours Artwalk events by staying open later to allow visitors to view the mural. In the meantime, the community is welcome to visit the Chamber lobby during business hours Monday-Friday.
Wichita Falls has many fantastic amenities available for economic development, but when it comes to available buildings for potential new businesses, the inventory needed for site consultants and businesses looking to move or expand their operations wasn’t there.
This created an opportunity to work with a local architect firm to create more options for Wichita Falls. Dick Bundy and his team at BYSP Architects worked tirelessly to provide virtual renderings along with timelines for completion.
“Our design team developed standardized buildings to meet the strictest demands of the industrial, manufacturing and distribution world. By having the design ready and virtually presented, the Chamber of Commerce now has a tool that can show prospects a vision of their future home and the timeline to complete. In a digital world, this effort provides a powerful tool for Economic Development and immediately shows prospects the progressiveness of our community, “ said Dick Bundy FAIA with CEO/Sr Principal BYSParchitects.
The Virtual Spec buildings are designed for the Industrial Business Park, located on HWY 287 at 2800 Fisher Road. Each rendering visualizes the possibilities for a company to stand up a business at 30,000 square feet with the option to expand later to 60,000 square feet or start at 60,000 square feet with options to expand to 120,000 square feet.
The Chamber’s V.P. of Business Attraction David Leezer has begun showcasing this tool to site consultants and the response has been fantastic. Consultants appreciate the visual and the complete information regarding construction costs and timelines. One said, “the spec building pricing documents/renderings are truly unique and something I have not seen in 6 years of doing this and countless interactions with economic development commissions like yours – they have already been useful in explaining the project to the client.”
Having this tool continues to show Wichita Falls means business and allows us to compete with some larger markets.
“Part of successful economic development is being able to differentiate yourself from your competition. This virtual spec building program definitely differentiates us,” said David Leezer, V.P. of Business Attraction at the Chamber.
The Wichita Falls Talent Partnership and Chamber won in the population category of 100,001 and above.
“A couple of years ago, this community developed a new plan to grow Wichita Falls. Talent development is a key component of the strategy, and the Talent Partnership’s goal is to increase the size of the labor pool and help our employers find the talent they need to function effectively. This recognition tells me that we’re headed in the right direction.”
The Workforce Excellence Award program recognizes exceptional contributions by a Texas community or region that has implemented successful workforce initiatives. Members of the TEDC’s Workforce Development Committee reviewed and scored the applications from the nominees based on five criteria: innovativeness, transferability, community commitment and leverage, measured objectives, and secondary benefits.
“Our TEDC’s Workforce Excellence Award is one of the ways in which our organization honors the outstanding work done by our communities and regions, their leaders, and their economic development professionals in the area of workforce development”
Carlton Schwab, President/CEO of the TEDC
The award recognized the following initiatives created in Talent Partnership’s pilot year:
Job Distribution List, Sheppard Military Spouse Professional Network, Military Spouse Community Tours, and Military Roundtable
The Circuit – Developed and rebranded a new Young Professionals of Wichita Falls
Relocation Incentive and the Chamber Job Board
Intern Wichita Falls and Custom Workforce Recommendations
“The Talent Partnership has made a lasting impact on our community and has brought new life and hope into our job-seekers, community partners, and employers. We are ready, willing and able to meet the call for workforce reform and talent.”
Taylor Davis, Director of the Wichita Falls Talent Partnership
The 2020 Workforce Excellence Award recipients are:
Growing your own talent by providing on-the-job-training will give interns insight into the day-today operations of your business. This results in more efficient assimilation if a full-time offer is extended. Additionally, this offers a chance for employers to screen potential employees before investing in permanent hiring. You’re probably thinking, “Great! Sign me up,” but there are some considerations to make before you take the leap. The first step in starting any internship process is to determine the internal needs of the organization.
Consider the following before deciding to host an internship:
Will the intern be governed by an institution, such as Midwestern State University or Vernon College?
When hiring a “traditional” intern typically defined as an undergraduate student, it is important to know the requirements that their institution may have if the student is receiving credit for their internship with you. This is an important consideration to make because it may shape how your processes, such as evaluations, will take place. The good news is that this information is readily available on each institution’s website and usually responsibility for proper completion and documentation is on the student.
Bottom Line: Create your own policies around on-boarding, evaluations and duration and adjust on a case-by-case basis to accommodate the student’s needs.
Should your program be registered with the U.S. Department of Labor?
In general, individual internship programs are not required to be registered with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). However, if you are considering offering a Apprenticeship, there are significant benefits for becoming registered with the DOL. Components of a registered apprenticeship according to the DOL include: “Paid Job, On-the-Job Training, Classroom Learning, Mentorship, and Credentials.”
If you’re interested in learning more about a registered apprenticeship program, you can review the DOL’s site here.
Bottom Line: Unless you are looking to gain the leverage of a national backing of a potential apprenticeship, you don’t need to register with the DOL.
What is the scope of work that the intern will be completing?
The DOL outlines that an internship should offer a trainee both a combination of education and experience that would be similar to the hands-on training that an intern would typically learn in an educational environment. Additionally, internships should not replace a full- or part-time employee. Therefore, make sure your internship consists of legitimate tasks, projects and assignments that can benefit an intern’s education. No coffee-fetching allowed!
Still need help? Answer these questions to dig down further on what your intern will be doing:
What will be the daily duties of the intern?
What skills or level of education does your intern need to possess to participate in your workforce effectively?
Are there age or licensing restrictions in your organization that limit the work that can be done by an individual?
Will you assign a special project for the intern to complete?
In which department can an intern best fit, and who will be their supervisor?
Bottom Line: As long as you have quality projects to complete, you can find a quality intern to help!
Does your industry or organization require skills not typically provided in a classroom setting?
The best part of creating an internship program is the opportunity to grow your own talent pool to the exactspecifications that you need for a quality employee! Exposing your intern(s) to your processes, equipment and team creates a one-of-kind, custom-built talent pool for future full-time hires.
Bottom line: Providing a new, unique experience to an intern that can’t be learned in any other setting will greatly supplement an intern’s education and it’s no more challenging than training any other new employee.
Do you have difficulty recruiting and retaining quality employees?
An internship program, especially a long-term program, will give you the opportunity to build strong connections to your interns who understand and appreciate your business or organization. The longer an intern works within your program, the more knowledge and experience they gain about the both their job and your organization. This greatly increases their ability to function as an asset on your team if hired for full-time employment.
Bottom Line: Internships allow you to build quality future employees from the ground up, and they’ll be the easiest hire you ever make.
Can your organization or employees benefit from the help of an intern?
Let’s answer a question with a question. Can your employees benefit from any of the following advantages that an intern can bring to your organization or business?
Allow full-time staff the flexibility to work on higher-level projects while also gaining leadership skills.
Assist in the implementation of cutting-edge techniques and new ideas
Maintain connections with institutions.
Promote community involvement.
Recruit other students within their program and increase pipeline prospects.
Allow your company to give back to the community by teaching, molding, and mentoring the prospective workforce.
Bottom line: if you answer YES to any of the above questions, an internship will be very advantageous for your business or organization.
Lastly, employers should also consider the costs to beginning an internship program, which can include wages, housing, networking activities, recruitment costs, work materials and training costs.
With both the competition and growing need for talented workforce increasing, internships allow for opportunities to recruit and retain individuals in Wichita Falls and the surrounding area. There is an intern to fit your every need at every level of education and experience.
Ready to get started? Refer to our free Employer Guide to take your step-by-step through the development process. Have questions? Email Taylor Davis, the Wichita Falls Talent Partnership Director, at Taylor@WichitaFallsChamber.com.
Flexibility Leadership and professional development opportunities for employees Increase employee retention New ideas and perspectives Connection to educators and community Save money when compared to hiring a part-time or full-time employee